After years of following enterprise attention management, I feel a tipping point may finally be in the realm of possibility.
First, a little background. E-mail overload and information overload are like the weather – everyone complains but no one does anything about them. Well, maybe not no one – pundits have preached a strong gospel of how information overload is destroying our brains and the very fabric of society, but followed up with weak solutions such as telling you not to hit “reply all”, have e-mail free Fridays, and to improve your interruption etiquette.
Enterprise Attention Management, on the other hand, doesn’t start from a negative assumption like information overload does. It simply asserts that the amount of information and number of channels is increasing exponentially and the manner in which that proliferation is handled determines whether information abundance or information overload will result. In short, it’s a management issue.
I’ve said before that there is little benefit that can be achieved in enterprise attention management without new behaviors and changes of habits. It’s not simply something that technology can solve – information workers have to be involved. I also stated that people will act when the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of action.
I’m finally starting to see more approaches that make action easier (reducing the cost of action) and its effects more noticeable and immediate. E-mail is where most of this experimentation starts. Google’s “priority inbox” is one such example. And I’m talking to more people that are using features that have long been available, but one has to dig for, like conversation views, tagging, and rules.
A few people starting to manage their attention just makes a few people more productive (if they keep it up). But once a significant chunk of people in the same social network are doing this, I think a snowball effect begins. Attention managers are more likely to show non-managers how to do it. They demand messages that are easier to manage. Their level of efficiency becomes an expectation for performance. Executives start thinking about enterprise-wide approaches instead of just individual ones. And vendors start noticing and making such features more prevalent and more visible.
I’ll bet that five years from now, about 10% of information workers will be actively managing their attention in some way. And that number will be even higher for those in roles that are more prone to overload.